After several delays, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions finally makes its way to the iPhone and iPod Touch. And while it’s good, the steep $15.99 price tag and some odd technical disappointments turn what should have been a real slam dunk on Apple’s touchscreen platform into a merely OK portable strategy adventure.
The story that unfolds in Final Fantasy Tactics is very complex and filled with political intrigue, betrayals, and friendship. Without revealing too much for newcomers, the kingdom of Ivalice is suffering from a power struggle caused by the recent death of the king. Naturally, it’s up to you to command his son, Ramza Beoulve, to fight battles and make things right within the kingdom’s borders and beyond. Like most turn-based strategy games, you’ll move your characters around on a isometric grid while selecting the actions you wish for them to perform, such as attacking, moving, healing an ally, and plenty more than you can shake a Chocobo at. Once you have selected your actions, the computer does the same and you’ll get to sit back and witness the wisdom/futility of your strategic decisions.
For the fans that are wondering, this port is based on the enhanced PSP version, and includes the same new jobs, secret characters and animated cut-scenes of the 2007 update. The original game is known for its complex, yet intimately thrilling take on the strategy genre, and the experience has been replicated, and in some areas improved, for its Apple debut. The iOS version introduces a touchscreen interface, making most selections while in battle a lot easier, and also allows for better control of the battlefield views through swiping and pinching to turn and zoom in/out rather than the fixed camera angles of the older versions. Still, the touch controls can sometimes feel a little sloppy when selecting an action, and then having to hit an ‘OK’ button to the side of the menu; it would’ve been nice to just double-tap your selection instead.
For those who prefer their games less cinematic the cut-scenes can be skipped, and the loading times have been drastically reduced. The visuals have also been improved considerably to take advantage of the higher-resolution retina displays of newer iPhones and look absolutely stunning. Those with iPads will probably want to play this version in its native resolution or skip it altogether, as the game hasn’t been formatted to take advantage of your bigger screens – yet. Square-Enix says that an iPad version is due soon, so you tablet users may want to hold off for now.
The game is not without faults, and the few it has may turn most away. The first being that it shares the same fate as its PSP counterpart, which is the lag / slowdown during battles. I’ve read that folks playing on the iPhone 3GS haven’t experienced this problem. But while playing on my iPhone 4 anytime someone attacks, especially with magic, the framerate slows to a crawl, which can be quite infuriating since the battles already take long enough to complete as is. Then there’s the steep $16 price tag, which is practically a fortune compared to most games available in the App Store. Perhaps if Square-Enix had released this as a universal app (formatted for both iPhone and iPad) the price might have been justified.
It pains me to say that while Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions for the iPhone is a good game, its steep price (by most App Store standards) and frustrating framerate issues keep it from being as good as it could be. Underneath, it’s still basically the same great experience that it’s always been, and the new touchscreen interface works surprising well, for the most part. Why this wasn’t released as a universal app for both iPhone and iPad is beyond me, especially as so much effort was put into making the already fantastic artwork look better than it ever has before. As it stands now, it’s difficult to recommend this title without reservations, as even the most die-hard Final Fantasy fans are bound to be taken aback with its flaws.